I’m not really an egg-head, but I want to start a new school of theology. At present on the American scene we are dominated by Covenant theology (Reformed Theology), Dispensational Theology and New Covenant Theology. Globally and in the past we’ve lived through Liberation Theology, Feminist Theology, Natural Theology – the list is endless. So why add one more? Just because I can? No sir. Because each one of these, from the most coherent, Biblical and sound, to the most ridiculous, insidious and dangerous – share one common trait: They do not start with “Theos” but with something else. And the something else is the defining factor – NOT, the “Theos”. Theology, must, if it is going to be thoroughly Biblical and sound, must start with God, not the grid through which we interpret God and His Word. Theo-Theology is what I am proposing.
Alright – I don’t want any crank notes about me goin’ off my rocker. I’m just kind of letting my brain burp theology. It may just be a jumbled mess, but by putting it down on paper, maybe I can see enough to move ahead, or to jettison this whole line of reasoning altogether. And who knows – if your sharp and witty insights are of help, either one of those ends may be reached all the sooner!
I want to start a new school of theology. At present on the American scene we are dominated by Covenant theology (Reformed Theology), Dispensational Theology and New Covenant Theology. Globally and in the past we’ve lived through Liberation Theology, Feminist Theology, Natural Theology – the list is endless. So why add one more? Just because I can? No sir. Because each one of these, from the most coherent, Biblical and sound, to the most ridiculous, insidious and dangerous – share one common trait: They do not start with “Theos” but with something else. And the something else is the defining factor – NOT, the “Theos”. Theology, must, if it is going to be thoroughly Biblical and sound, must start with God, not the grid through which we interpret God and His Word. Theo-Theology is what I am proposing.
Now obviously (to anyone who knows me that is) I do not have the brain power to actually formulate such an entire school of theological thought. I would like to mind you. But there just isn’t enough grey matter between these ole ears to make it happen. Not every place where there’s a will is there a way. But maybe – just maybe I can put the bug in the right person’s ear who CAN work it through.
So let me give you my premise.
Covenant Theology for instance uses the covenantal structures in Scripture as the interpretive grid through which they arrive at all Scriptural truth. Covenantal structures clearly (in most cases, some like myself reject the “Covenant of Works”) laid out in the Bible. Mind you, I am not arguing whether or not those structures are there or discernable. In most cases they are incontrovertibly present. My question is whether or not they ought to form the hermeneutical control given to them by many.
Dispensationalism follows a similar pattern. It sees 7 (especially in old school, hard core Dispyism) “dispensations” or eras wherein God dealt with mankind under some set of clarified and unique provisions. It then uses these eras (dispensations) as its hermeneutical control. There are clearly some form of “dispensations” in Scripture. It is even a Scriptural word. (4 times in the NT – oikonomia – “economy”) As is “covenant” and “new covenant”.
New Covenant Theology follows in kind, however shifting its interpretive grid to the provisions of New Covenant as stated in Jer. 31, Heb. 8, etc.; and carried out in Christ. The primary approach here is to read the Old Testament through the lens of the New Testament. Kind of like reading a book in low light (Old Testament by itself) and then in the full blaze of the noon sun, with Christ now being the means whereby you see everything more clearly. To read the last chapter of the book, and then to go back and start at the beginning, reading the book with what you know now.
Now my problem with each of these is identical. Each begins not where the Bible itself does – with God Himself “in the beginning God”, but with the secondary consideration “created the heavens and the earth.” Mind you we need both, but God’s revelation begins with Himself, and what He does issues from who and what He is. In each of the systems above, we should rewrite Genesis 1:1 to read “The Heavens and the earth were created in the beginning, by God.” The creation isn’t the leading thought – God is. In beginning, God. God is brought before the mind before creation is. Creation is hot on His heals, but we are asked to think “God” before we are asked to think “Creation”. We are asked to think “God” before covenants or dispensations. True enough, man made in God’s image as a rational being has within him the innate knowledge of God. No question. But man isn’t asked to think “Himself” first either. He is asked to think “God”, and reason down to man as part of creation. And we are asked to do this before we are ever introduced to any idea of covenants, dispensations or anything else.
So let me try to put some practical wheels on this rickety cart. Because, as anyone with half a brain can tell, this little musing has a long way to go before it forms anything resembling good sense and a useful tool. If indeed it CAN come to that place. But let me try in advancing one thought: Let us begin our theology with God’s revelation about Himself, and let us use THAT revelation – the revelation of His divine perfections as the interpretive grid for Scripture. Everything God DOES (like making covenants) flows from who and what God IS. I must understand the covenants through the revelations of God’s perfections, attributes and character – not seek to understand God through the covenants first.
So my proposed school of Theo-theology rests in this one premise: Gather God’s revelations of Himself as considered in His being, and THEN go back to see what this God has done. Do not look at the clock to learn about the Clockmaker, there are certain things one can learn, but its backwards. Get to know the Clockmaker, and use that knowledge to interpret the purpose of the clock and its functions. Now things are in their right order.
How does one do this practically? How the heck do I know? I’m just beginning to think it out loud for discussion and meditation. But something tells me “In the beginning God” was more than a simple statement of fact, it is meant to be the lens through which everything else is understood. It is where the Bible – God’s self-revelation begins. And it is the revelation of God we are told – where everything finds its consummation. If my primary exposure to the Scripture is to find out how it reveals God, then the covenants and the dispensations and everything else will take their proper, subordinate place.
Remember – God would still be God even if He had made no covenants. He doesn’t need to covenant in order to be God. But the covenants need Him to be who and what He is – in order for them to mean anything. Start at the Head. And work down. Theo-theology 101.
All of our theology ought to make us to know more about God, and to know God Himself, than what God has done. I fear our current pursuits make us experts on His acts, whether we see Him or know Him or not. And that ain’t good. John 17:3 “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” I may know the covenants, and never know Him. But if I know Him, I’ll find out what I need to know about the covenants. Or the dispensations. Or maybe even why we have an appendix! Or why there are things like noseeums. And why when I turned 50, hair started growing out of my ears like fronds in the rain forest!